With airlines dropping flights, Vanuatu increasingly isolated

With airlines dropping flights, Vanuatu increasingly isolated

Vanuatu is growing increasingly isolated as Qantas joins Air New Zealand in refusing to fly there and Virgin Australia could be next to follow suit.

Port Vila International Airport is the only way in or out for international airlines, but the runway is considered dangerous.

It's a terrible blow to the tourism industry of the Pacific Island nation that's still recovering from Cyclone Pam last year.

Flying to Vanuatu takes faith from travellers. Air New Zealand is suspending all flights to Port Vila. Qantas quickly followed its lead, and Virgin Australia is weighing up the same action. For now only Air Vanuatu will fly them.

Air New Zealand says the runway at Port Vila is degraded and now presents a risk to aircraft operations.

It's a bitter blow for a nation still reeling from the chaos and destruction of Cyclone Pam. Tourism has only just begun to recover; now it's becoming cut off from the world.

And the tourism industry says the economic damage could rival that caused by the tropical storm.

"I think it'll be worse than Pam if it drags out and other airlines are involved. I really do," says Vanuatu Hotel and Resorts Association president Bryan Death.

Mr Death was on a Vanuatu government taskforce set up to improve Port Vila Airport.

"There was a real need for an urgent remedy to the resurfacing, which was about five years overdue then," he says. "So now we're in a situation where that's become the game-breaker."

He says the World Bank had an offer on the table to fund a $59 million airport upgrade, but political interference saw the plan derailed.

"We'll be trying desperately to convince government that they need to reopen negotiations as soon as possible with the World Bank, who had the money on the table."

For now Vanuatu has no government. Snap elections were held yesterday after 14 MPs were sent to jail for bribery, and the country is still waiting to learn the results.

Statement from Air Vanuatu

3 News understands the runway at Port Vila could be resealed with 80 tonnes of imported asphalt. But even if that were ordered tomorrow, sources tell us it would take two months to arrive. And with Vanuatu today still waiting to form a government, there's likely to be no quick fix for its airport or its ailing tourist economy.

3 News